There's no one here today. I'm sitting in the waiting room by myself. They've refurbished some of the teaching rooms, and there's a few school desks lying around - including the one I'm writing on now. I suppose everyone must have gone on vacation. At least away to the coast for a long weekend. I don't blame them, it's boiling here.
Anyway, I've promised to do portraits, to introduce you to a new child on the autism spectrum every week. As there's nobody here I'll write about someone I know, someone who's been coming here for as long as we have, a little girl who participates in group therapy with Max.
She's only a year or so younger than Max. But she's tiny. Her big sister who sometimes accompanies her is also very short. But they come with their dad, who's nothing short of a giant. I love seeing little E. rushing around her dad's legs, barely reaching to his hips, while he towers over her, calm and benign, and they're in perfect harmony with each other.
When E. arrives at the centre, on Saturday mornings, she runs in to the waiting room, arms akimbo, looking around confidently to see which of her friends have arrived yet. Then she'll go to them and greet them, loud and clear. If they're already playing when she arrives she'll join in straight away, making her presence felt.
She's a funny looking little thing - she's got stiff black hair, bushy eyebrows, and a turned up nose. And she's so short. But you can tell that soon, she'll shoot up and be as tall as her dad. And because she's so confident already, you just know she'll make a very attractive woman one day. It's all there.
I don't think I've ever seen little E. looking sad, or upset, except if another kid is crying or having a tantrum. She talks a lot, so clearly, she's an aspie, a kid with asperger syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. So she's on the spectrum, with the rest of them, but her verbal abilities are very high. She's not shy, and right from the beginning would come up to me and ask me what was in my bag, or if she could borrow Max's colouring pens. She's vivacious, fun, a bit of a flirt. She likes to talk, she likes to play, she likes to run, she likes Max. She does very well in the group class and is often the first to get something right. When Max isn't sure what the answer is, he'll copy Elif.
So what's wrong with her, you ask? Why, nothing. She's a bright, adorable little girl on the spectrum. My guess is she's dealing with some sensory issues, that she may have the occasional meltdown. The two are related. When the noise and the smells and the light gets too much for an autie kid, they go into meltdown mode. Nothing you can do to stop it when it happens, but as they learn to deal with sensory overload better, it happens less often.
Another thing, as with most autistic people who are good with words, she may need some help learning to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate talk. She may have to be taught as she grows older, that some questions are just too personal and shouldn't be put to strangers. But she seems to be doing well on that front already.
Also, something that's usually a big stumbling block for people on the spectrum, she'll have trouble expressing her emotions. Not that there's anything wrong with her emotions. She has them allright, and she can tell when someone else is feeling upset, sad, angry, or shy. She can tell when someone else likes her and wants to play. What she may not be very good at is putting all this knowledge into words, and she may have difficulties with behaviour that requires her to be verbal and emotional at the same time.
So here, where all the other kids are on the spectrum, and she's the best talker around, her reactions are spot on. If a kid starts crying or acting upset, she'll go to him, full of empathy, letting him know with her eyes that she cares. But in a situation where everyone is talking, where the person who's upset is telling her over the phone exactly what's upsetting her and why, she may well get it wrong, say something inappropriate and hurt her friend's feelings. So yes, because we live in a world where people want to dissect their feelings and analyse their emotions over the phone, she needs help. That - other people's expectations - is what some people might say is wrong with her.
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